Pokemon Trading Card Game Classic is a stroke of genius
Let’s not mince words. Pokemon is ultimately for children. A lot of us grown-ups love it, yes, but this isn’t one of those game franchises that has sort of ‘grown up’ with its audience while trying to simultaneously appeal to older fans, like Final Fantasy or Zelda. This is a franchise in a perpetual Peter Pan-like state of adolescence.
But, you know, like many of the best things for kids, there’s something in it for adults. It’s like Doctor Who – a family TV show, but one with legions of adult fans who should probably know better but love it intensely all the same. I’m one of those, both for that blue box show and for tossing Pokeballs.
Go to the Pokemon World Championships and you’ll find it telling that this is one of the few esports and tabletop competitions that’s flat-out split into age-bracketed categories to ensure that adult competitors don’t just wash away the children who these games are really designed for.
For the longest time, I felt pretty sure that The Pokemon Company was largely content to happily ignore the adult fans. It felt like all aspects of Pokemon were primarily designed for the kids – and the adults just had to get on board. I think this has been great for the childhood whimsy of the franchise, though not necessarily great for the quality of the games. 10-year-olds don’t generally complain about or understand a terrible, stomach-turning frame rate, so TPC keeps putting out technical pigs. That aside, though, it’s always seemed like a smart strategy.
But, slowly but surely TPC seems to be realizing there’s a strong separate market for these fans. This is probably thanks to Pokemon Go being a huge phenomenon that touched many 90s kids who hadn’t thought about a Caterpie for over a decade. Now, the company is beginning to serve that segment more specifically – and honestly, I’m here for it.
For Pokemon’s anniversary we got some re-issues of classic cards and other such celebratory touches. But the best yet has just been revealed – Pokemon Trading Card Game Classic. This is for grown ups; the young at heart, and it’s a brilliant idea.
It’s so brilliant for two reasons. The first is pretty simple: nostalgia for the Pokemon TCG is intense, but the card game has also changed massively over the years. I’ve flirted with returning to the TCG and playing its online offering on-and-off forever, but all of my real affinity for this tabletop battler lays somewhere between Base Set and Neo Discovery. After that, I tapered off.
The rules of the game have morphed and grown in complexity; the old cards aren’t even legal in the modern game.
The new TCG Classic exists for people like me, 30-somethings with fond memories of specific cards and setups who probably would play some Pokemon TCG if there wasn’t a whole bunch of new mechanics and meta to learn. And so it is.
If you missed the announcement during Pokemon’s anniversary stream, the Classic package basically brings together a bunch of classic cards, offering up three unique decks – one each themed around those classic Venusaur, Charizard and Blastoise cards that were the envy of the playground. It’s classic rules, classic setup. None of it is legal for the current TCG meta – it’s meant to be a stand-alone thing.
Pokemon has partnered with Nendo, most famous for its cutesy but expensive Nendoroid figurines, for the design. It comes in a slick black box that unfolds in the manner of a prestige board game to create your playing field. Instead of tossing coins, you spin a ball in a roulette-like tumbler that lands in either heads or tails. Damage counters stack and generally have a mega-premium look to them compared to the main game. The cards themselves have sleek black card-backs – which’ll both differentiate them from the originals and give them a sort of clear ‘this is for adults’ look.
This appeals to me, even though I know a ‘grown up’ package is going to command a grown-up price. No Western RRP is confirmed, but in Japan it’s looking to be 35,000 Yen, equivalent to around $257/£215. It’s expensive, and it makes me wince – but I know I’m probably going to be there for this thing on day one.
Secondary to that, however, I just think this is a bloody clever idea. A few years ago I reviewed Pokemon Battle Academy, which was a similar idea but for the kids-first version of the game. What I discovered in that set is that there’s a real power to having an all-in-one Pokemon TCG set that’s almost built like a board game.
Basically, Battle Academy featured everything you needed to just play in one box. Three unique decks, play board, everything you need to get going, and clear, detailed instructions. Just buy it, open it, play. No booster packs, no starter kits that require a second deck to get going. Just the ability to play. This is that again, but as a premium product (probably for 10x the price, Battle Academy was just £20) and aimed at adults.
The adult focus is what justifies the price, which is probably what makes this attractive to TPC. Let’s admit that. And I hope they decide to be sensible about exactly how they position this cost-wise in the West. But as a product concept, and as an idea for the future of the Pokemon series, I think it’s genius.
Pokemon should continue to be focused on kids. That is who it’s for, and I’d never want to rip the franchise from them. But throwing a bone to adult fans here and there can be thrilling and also very successful. Lego went through a similar awakening over the last decade, where now adult-focused sets make up a huge proportion of its business – and I genuinely feel that Pokemon could do the same. Hopefully the TCG Classic is just the first step.